125 Powerful Black History Month Quotes From Inspiring Leaders

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black history month quotes

Black history is celebrated in many countries around the world including the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, and it's important to recognize the greatest leaders, events, and important contributions of African Americans throughout history with some of the best inspirational quotes about race and equality.

Black History Month was originally created in the 1920s as "Negro History Week" by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. It wasn't until 1970 when President Gerald Ford expanded the event to an entire month, explaining that the United States needed to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

There's no better time than now to recognize the world's greatest African-American leaders in all walks of life with inspirational Black History Month quotes.

RELATED: 50 Best Ida B. Wells Quotes About Racism, Feminism And Activism

From Thurgood Marshall (the first African American ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court) to Madam C.J. Walker (the world's first African-American self-made millionaire) to Barack Obama (the first African-American president in U.S. history), take a look below at our collection of the most inspiring quotes from the world's greatest Black leaders talking about race, equality, and love.

Celebrate Black history as we take time to honor some of the greatest civil rights activists who worked (and still continue working) to make the country a better, safer, and more equal place.

125 Powerful Black History Month Quotes

1. “Truth is powerful and it prevails.” — Sojourner Truth

2. ”We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.” — Yvette Clarke

3. ”If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” — Frederick Douglass

4. ”Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.” — Susan L. Taylor

5. ”The time is always right to do what is right.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

6. ”Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” — Booker T. Washington

7. “If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything… that smacks of discrimination or slander.” — Mary Bethune

8. “You can only become accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” — Maya Angelou

9. “There are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.” — Rita Dove

10. ”Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” — Langston Hughes

11. "In the end, it's not about finding policies that work; it’s about forging consensus, and fighting cynicism, and finding the will to make change." — Barack Obama

12. ”Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” — Dr. Mae Jemison

13. “We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” — Jesse Owens

14. “I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” — Madam C.J Walker

15. ”It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.” — Malcolm X

16. ”If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” — Marcus Garvey

17. "Hold on to your dreams of a better life and stay committed to striving to realize it.” — Earl G. Graves, Sr.

18. ”You can never know where you are going unless you know where you have been.” — Amelia Boynton Robinson

19. ”For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

20. ”Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

21. "We may have different religions, different languages, and different colored skin, but we all belong to the human race." — Kofi Annan

22. “It’s not about color. It’s about love.” — Unknown

23. "You can and should set your own limits and clearly articulate them. This takes courage, but it is also liberating and empowering, and often earns you new respect.” — Rosalind Brewer

24. ”I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.“ — Morgan Freeman

25. ”You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.“ — Frederick Douglass

26. "It’s important for us to also understand that the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed. It’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter. It’s to suggest that other folks aren’t experiencing this particular vulnerability." — Barack Obama

27. ”I swear to the Lord I still can’t see why democracy means everybody but me.” — Langston Hughes

28. ”Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.” — Carol Moseley-Braun

29. ”Black people have always been America’s wilderness in search of a promised land.” — Cornel West

30. ”There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution.” — Frederick Douglass

31. ”Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.” — Barbara Jordan

32. ”If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything… that smacks of discrimination or slander.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

33. ”In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” — Booker T. Washington

34. "Don't be silent in the room." — Rosalind Brewer

35. ”Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman

36. ”We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.” — Carter Woodson

37. "Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated." — Coretta Scott King

38. "My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." — Desmond Tutu

39. "Have a vision. Be demanding." — Colin Powell

40. ”Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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41. "I'm here to say we must reject such despair. I'm here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem, and I know that because I know America. I know how far we've come against impossible odds." — Barack Obama

42. ”I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or rat in a trap. I had already determined to sell my life as early as possible if attacked. I felt if I could take one lyncher with me, this would even up the score a little bit.” — Ida B. Wells

43. ”I’m not quite sure what freedom is, but I know damn well what it ain’t. How have we gotten so silly, I wonder.” — Assata Shakur

44. ”We are the heirs of a past of rope, fire, and murder. I for one am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

45. “Many of the things that you do in life should have some level of concern about somebody else. Even if it’s just that you have to pick one person. I would hope that everybody would have a concern for just the world, I think that it will make the entire world a better place.” — Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett

46. ”Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” — Malcolm X

47. ”Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” — George Washington Carver

48. "Can we see in each other a common humanity, a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?" — Barack Obama

49. ”When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything.” — Harriet Tubman

50. ”Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” — Barack Obama

51. ”The African race is a rubber ball. The harder you dash it to the ground, the higher it will rise.” — African Proverb

52. “Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.” — Oprah Winfrey

53. ”I knew then and I know now when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it.” — Claudette Colvin

54. "During Black History Month, I’m reminded yet again of the ways that the struggle for civil rights is interwoven with the struggle for workers’ rights.” — Tom Perez

55. “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” — Audre Lorde

56. “You are no better than anyone else, and no one is better than you.” — Katherine Johnson

57. “Instead of looking at the past, I put myself ahead twenty years and try to look at what I need to do now in order to get there.” — Diana Ross

58. ”If the only time you think of me as a scientist is during Black History Month, then I must not be doing my job as a scientist.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

59. "With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just to opponents, but to enemies." — Barack Obama

60. ”Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.“ — Maya Angelou

61. ”When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” — Audre Lorde

62. ”If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

63. “Go to work! Go to work in the morn of a new creation… until you have… reached the height of self-progress, and from that pinnacle bestow upon the world a civilization of your own.” — Marcus Garvey

64. ”Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.” — Ola Joseph

65. ”Freedom is never given; it is won.” — A. Philip Randolph

66. ”One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” — Franklin Thomas

67. ”Character is power.” — Booker T. Washington

68. ”One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.” — Michelle Obama

69. ”Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

70. "I believe our sorrow can make us a better country. I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace." — Barack Obama

71. “If you wake up deciding what you want to give versus what you’re going to get, you become a more successful person. In other words, if you want to make money, you have to help someone else make money.” — Russell Simmons

72. "Love is not a color. Character is not a shade of skin.” — Unknown

73. "Life's most persistent and urgent question is 'What are you doing for others?'" — Martin Luther King Jr.

74. "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." — Frederick Douglass​

75. "Before we start talking about genetic differences, you gotta come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity. Then we can have that conversation." — Neil deGrasse Tyson

76. "There is always light. Only if we are brave enough to see it. There is always light. Only if we are brave enough to be it.” — Amanda Gorman

77. "Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good." — Maya Angelou

78. "You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it." — Malcolm X​

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79. "The soul that is within me no man can degrade." — Frederick Douglass​

80. “I know that in life there will be sickness, devastation, disappointments, heartache - it's a given. What's not a given is the way you choose to get through it all. If you look hard enough, you can always find the bright side.” — Rashida Jones

81. "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today." — Malcolm X​

82. “I don’t have any time to stay up all night worrying about what someone who doesn’t love me has to say about me.” — Viola Davis

83. "If there's anything that I've learned it's that we can only fix this world together." — Rihanna

84. “Magic lies in challenging what seems impossible.” — Carol M. Braun

85. “Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” — Shonda Rhimes

86. “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” — Fredrick Douglass

87. “Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.” — George Washington Carver

88. "Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn life around." — Martin Luther King Jr.

89. "While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated." — Maya Angelou

90. "You have to treat everyone you meet as if they are the most important person in the world—because they are. If not to you, then to someone; and if not today, then perhaps tomorrow." — Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall

91. “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” — Jackie Robinson

92. “It isn’t where you come from; it’s where you’re going that counts.” — Ella Fitzgerald

93. "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend." — Martin Luther King Jr.

94. "For Africa to me... is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place." — Maya Angelou

95. “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. True inclusion is when people are invited in on the conversation and they’re invited in on the strategy.” — Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall

96. "I was raised to believe that excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism." — Oprah Winfrey

97. "He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life." — Muhammad Ali

98. "I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear." — Rosa Parks

99. "One thing is clear to me: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves." — Barbara Jordan

100. "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." — Michael Jordan

101. “I used to want the words ‘She tried’ on my tombstone. Now I want ‘She did it.’” — Katherine Dunham

102. “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” — Shirley Chisholm

103. “I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.” — Serena Williams

104. “Everything will change. The only question is growing up or decaying.” — Nikki Giovanni

105. “There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” — James Baldwin

106. “What’s the world for if you can’t make it up the way you want it?” — Toni Morrison

107. “If you can’t fly then run if you can’t run then walk if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

108. “You never know how or when you’ll have an impact, or how important your example can be to someone else.” — Denzel Washington

109. “No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” — Alice Walker

110. "The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression." — W.E.B. Du Bois

111. "Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong." — Ella Fitzgerald

112. "In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute." — Thurgood Marshall

113. “When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” — Ava DuVernay

114. "Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference." — Denzel Washington

115. “Go out there and swear to this world your oath, not with your words, but with what you do. Not with your hand over your heart, but with your hand outstretched to a world that desperately needs your hand, your help, your insights, your creativity, your honor, your courage. It needs you.” — Cory Booker

116. "As black women, we're always given these seemingly devastating experiences — experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as black women is take the worst situations and create from that point." — Viola Davis

117. “Being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.” — Toni Morrison

118. "We never go backward. That's the plight of the human species, but also our privilege. So as always, a new equation will emerge, and that will be led by the artists and likely powered by them as well." — Pharrell Williams

119. "When you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed." — Michelle Obama

120. "It will take each of us to confront the injustices that continue to perpetuate a broken system that has taken countless Black Americans’ lives. It will take people of every race, creed, and gender identity to speak up and to act. Now is the time to have those uncomfortable conversations about racism with family, friends, and neighbors. It’s time to have honest discussions about our country’s dark history of discrimination and confront the fact that structural racism lives on in our policies and everyday life. And it’s time for all of us — not just some — to speak out against racism." — Kamala Harris

121. "Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life." — Jackie Robinson

122. "If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair." — Shirley Chisholm

123. "I’m hungry for knowledge. The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter. That’s what this world is about. You look at someone like Gandhi, and he glowed. Martin Luther King glowed. Muhammad Ali glows. I think that’s from being bright all the time, and trying to be brighter." — Jay-Z

124. “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” — James Baldwin

125. "Humans have a light side and a dark side, and it's up to us to choose which way we're going to live our lives. Even if you start out on the dark side, it doesn't mean you have to continue your journey that way. You always have time to turn it around." — Taraji P. Henson

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Kayla Cavanagh is an editor and writer living in Central Florida, focusing on quotes, current events and love and relationships.